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Published November 10, 2003
As the sports media buyer for ad-buying giant OMD, Tom McGovern maneuvers between several powerful contingents.
He's got clients like PepsiCo, Visa, McDonald's, FedEx and Universal Pictures on one side, spending upwards of $450 million a year of their cash. And he's got television networks on the other, which he has to stay on respectful terms with through constant negotiations.
But the event that most influenced him was when his other constituency, his boss, handed him the proverbial keys to the car three years ago and left town.
"It was my first few months on the job in mid-2000 and we were sort of just coming together as a company at OMD [a merger of several Omnicom Group agencies], and my boss said, 'I know you're involved in [buying for] the Super Bowl and this is the most important event for us as a company, so we don't want to screw up any deals. And by the way, I'm going to be traveling for the next two weeks.'"
McGovern came through fine, and he's gone on to build a reputation in the sports world not only for deal-making but for ideas.
"He is clearly one of the sharpest and brightest people in the business," said Jon Miller, senior vice president of sports programming at NBC. "When we walked away from the NBA in 2001 and were considering replacements, he put together a team of people from his agency to bounce ideas off, and he was the first agency guy who said we should look into arena football as the best opportunity out there for sponsor value and a young demographic. There were a lot of important people in that room and it was impressive that he came right out and said that."
McGovern said he's learned that what appears a great idea to him might not to others. "The challenge I've learned about myself is that you sometimes can have a vision for an idea and you have to take a step back and consider how you present it, break it down and put it in terms that really make sense, so [others] can see it as you do."
McGovern describes his deal-making style as involving constant give-and-take. "There's definitely guys out there who are punishers, but I try to make myself firm but fair. We have a lot of money on the line and a lot at stake ... but you also have to realize when something should be an easy 'give' for you and not get caught in the minutiae, because every day is a negotiation."
Technological advancements like TiVo have many people in the television industry concerned, but McGovern is not ready to concede that television ads are in danger. "I got into this business around 1986, when cable was in its infancy, and clearly [TiVo] is not the first technological improvement to come along and change the way people watch TV. We've all had remote [controls] for a long time. Everything is an evolution and it challenges us to be smarter."
Currently McGovern's reacting to the evolution in sports rights holders, which require media buyers to become even stronger marketers. "With CBS taking on NCAA rights and marks, ABC owning all the BCS rights and marks, and with NBA TV and the NFL Network, you've seen media owners selling marketing rights and leagues who are in the media business — a convergence. There's a changing landscape, and how do we prepare to bring the right skill sets to bear?"
McGovern said he's bullish on sports in general. "What makes me feel good — and we're living it right now — is what's gone on in baseball the last couple weeks. Television has the ability to get you so close to a game now."
But he laments "when you see athletes who have a sense of entitlement, when some of them don't seem to appreciate where they came from. Anyone who grew up in the Northeast has dreamed about the [Yankees-Red Sox] Game 7, and those players were kids once, too. I wonder if some athletes have lost the sense of where they came from, or if they just don't show it."